The Way, Way Back - Cinema Review

'This is Zaphod Beeblebrox goes to the waterpark, Chuck Barris with humanity and a fully-working mind. It's arguable that Rockwell has never been better'

If there is one reason to head out and see The Way, Way Back before it disappears from UK cinema screens, it is undoubtedly the performance of one Sam Rockwell. To be fair, he does get a gift of a role from long time writers, first time directors, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Owen (Rockwell) is a sweet-natured, carefree, layabout, the owner of a local, slightly rough-around-the-edges waterpark, which protagonist Duncan (Liam James) finds himself working at whilst on vacation with Mother Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).

In the role, Rockwell is well at home. His charm is on full blast, oozing through a carefree nature that pulls at his will they/won't they romance with Caitlin (Maya Rudolph). This is Zaphod Beeblebrox goes to the waterpark, Chuck Barris with humanity and a fully-working mind. It's arguable that Rockwell has never been better, although his role in Moon certainly shows a more serious side. Without him, TWWB loses a lot of heart, nearly all of its laughs and a hell of a lot more besides.

Which isn't to say that, at that point, it would be completely unworthy of a watch either. James, from TV's The Killing, is an awkward screen presence at times, with few words to offer, but then... he's playing an awkward presence, with few words to offer at times. In a way, his fourteen year-old - Pop'n'Lock to his friends - is perfect, though that doesn't always mean he is an interesting watch. The real highlights, aside from Rockwell are Faxon and Rash's script - full of Summer joie de vivre and some hearty family nonsense - and Carell, a bulked up, imposing, unlikeable bully, the antithesis of Rockwell and more childlike than the children.

As first time directors, Faxon and Rash can be forgiven some of TWWB's shortcomings, which are nevertheless visibly present. A few too many times their film falls back on cliché whenever it is in danger of losing its footing. Coming of age films which rely on a scene where the two leads wistfully watch some fireworks should have been eradicated at the point Submarine defined those scenes, yet here we are again, looking up whilst sweet nothings of a hard life are considered. For a film so strong in the final act, it is strange to find that Faxon and Rash can't quite finish things either, with several scenes that feel like the finale, before they decide to go with the 'full circle' route. Zoe Levin, as Trent's biological daughter Steph, clearly has some of the same troubles as Duncan, yet she is dismissed as a Mean Girl in the opening scenes and given very little thereafter. Rob Corddry is entirely wasted.

Rockwell's performance though, the sweetness between him and nearly every other character, and Carell's thoroughly unlikeable transformation, mean this deserves the benefit of the doubt. It isn't quite the long hot Summer Duncan promises during an early meeting with first-love interest Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), but as an affecting Summer flirtation? It's not far off being perfect.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.


  1. Rockwell's performance really was the best part about this film. Nothing else really stood out for me.

  2. *I hit enter too soon* Great review, by the way!

    1. Thanks Brittani! I liked it enough but yes, without him it would lose a star.

  3. Finally got round to this after not getting to see it during its blink-and-you'll-miss-it cinema run last year. Totally agree with pretty much everything you've said. Who'd have thought Steve Carell would end up a contender for biggest big-screen prick of 2013?